Beginning in the 1830s, civil wars disrupted the Yoruba kingdoms. From the 1890s until the 1960s, British and French interference
further challenged traditional Yoruba ways. In this climate of political upheaval, Yoruba leaders without official claims to
kingship began to commission and wear veiled crowns. Although the sacred powers of Yoruba kings are limited today, disputes still
rage over the rights to wear veiled crowns.
This 19th-century king's crown is made of thousands of tiny brightly colored glass beads. Many features of this crown are
characteristic of nearly all sacred Yoruba crowns.
Roll over the image to see specific attributes from the King's Crown
The most distinctive feature of this crown is the veil of beads that once cascaded over the king's face. A net of black, white,
maroon, and blue beads is surrounded by multicolored strands of beads. The veil obscured the king's features to protect men and
women from looking directly at his face when he was united with his powerful ancestors.
A great yellow face dominates the crown. Its black-and-white almond-shaped eyes, yellow nose, and oval blue mouth are raised from
the surface. The three vertical lines on either side of the nose are scars denoting the king's lineage. The face represents a royal
ancestor of the king, probably Oduduwa, and unites the spirit world of the ancestors with the earthly world of the king and his people.
A tall striped projection, perhaps representing a hairstyle, stands above the face. Among some Yoruba, projections from the heads
of special individuals signify spiritual power. The projection on this crown once contained a pouch of herbal medicines that gave the
crown its power. For fear he would be blinded, even the king could not look inside his own crown.
Sixteen colorful beaded birds surround the king's crown. These birds signify a divine force called áshe (ah-SHE)the power to
make things happenwhich only the highest Yoruba men and women possess. The birds connote the áshe of the king and of a group of
elderly women called "the mothers" who support him.1 The mothers' special power enables them to turn into night birds who
punish or destroy those who are arrogant, selfish, or otherwise immoral. On the crown, the birds symbolize the king's power and the
mothers' power to protect him and the people.
1 Robert Farris Thompson, "Ashé: The-Power-to-Make-Things-Happen," Parabola: Magazine
of Myth and Tradition, 17, no. 4 (1992): pp. 86-89.